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Reducing embarrassment in the lunch line

School districts throughout New York State have enacted new lunch policies that bring a huge benefit to students. Students are now protected from the embarrassment that could stem from unpaid meal charges after Gov. Andrew Cuomo required it in this year’s state budget.student buying lunch at Amherst Middle School

"No child should ever go hungry – especially at school – and students should never be humiliated or denied a well-rounded meal just because they can't pay," Gov. Cuomo said. "This significant milestone in our No Student Goes Hungry Program will ensure all children get a healthy meal in school even if they don't have lunch money and provide a supportive learning environment so every student can succeed."

Each school district received a draft policy from Erie 1 BOCES Policy Services based on the guidance of the state-approved prohibition against meal shaming policy template. School districts should customize this template policy for their own district needs. 

“The biggest benefit of this goes to the students, said Laura Bosinski, school business administrator for Amherst Central School District. “They don’t have to worry about being embarrassed if they get up to the line and there’s not enough money [in their account]. Even though it can be financially difficult for school districts to manage this; it’s a great benefit for the kids who truly need it."

Each district will have different protocol that meets New York State guidelines, but every policy should ensure that all communication about unpaid meal debt will strictly be with parents. Amherst, for example, covers the policy in annual development meetings for their food service staff and makes ample effort to make sure parents are aware of the situation and know their options. 

“Our food service staff participates in professional development annually,” said Bosinski. “They go over all of the HR stuff, review policies and are given guidelines on how to handle students who don’t have money on their account.

“We send home a free and reduced lunch application in the back-to-school newsletter every year. Once the family’s account goes negative, they receive a negative balance letter every two weeks. We include free and reduced lunch applications with the letters as well. Once we reach a certain level, it’s turned over to the building principal and they make contact with the parents.”

Along with no longer having to worry about embarrassment, Bosinski also said that an added benefit is that students won’t have to be involved in adult problems.

“In the end, feeding children shouldn’t be a child problem; it’s an adult problem,” she said. “With the percentage of students who don’t have any money for food, we make sure that the child is cared for and keeping the adult problems as adult problems.”


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